Review: Heisenberg

Heisenberg MTC Friedman Theatre CAST & CREATIVE for Heisenberg View All Cast Georgie Mary-Louise Parker Alex Denis Arndt Creative Written by Simon Stephens Director Mark Brokaw Set Designer Mark Wendland Costume Designer Michael Krass Lighting Designer Austin R. Smith Original Music and Sound Designer David Van Tieghem

When looking for someone to adapt his novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon specifically sought out playwright Simon Stephens because of his “heart of flint.” That captures Stephens’s cool and clear-eyed observation of people with all their flaws, but it misses the underlying optimism in his writing that creates such an exciting tension with his flinty surfaces. His specific brand of guarded optimism was indeed exactly what was needed for Curious Incident, and is once again on surprisingly heartening display in his own play Heisenberg.

In a London train station, Georgie (Mary-Louise Parker) spots Alex (Denis Arndt), a man several decades her senior, and plants a kiss on his neck. Nothing is quite as it seems, either at that moment, or indeed as their relationship grows and changes. Out of unpredictable oscillations between self-interest and selflessness is born something that closely resembles love.

Both Georgie and Alex have massive defense mechanisms due to difficulties in their lives, yet gradually offer each other more and more company and comfort, because…well, why not? Parker can sometimes be abrasive and “too much” as Georgie – but that’s actually because she’s playing the character correctly. Similarly, Arndt can be a bit opaque, but that’s because Alex is opaque.

Stephens very successfully makes us care about two prickly, slippery people by giving us insights to the all-too-human pain that drives them. Mark Brokaw’s spare but very detailed direction serves Stephens’s script marvellously well. Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see

Review: Sharon Needles


A song about Candy Darling by Lou Reed, and a Rocky Horror song delivered with a dash of Bette Davis and a whole lot of Alice Cooper – these were perhaps the most deliciously telling things about Sharon Needles’s Halloween-themed cabaret act. Needles keeps referring to her shtick as “stupid,” which I chalk up to a knee-jerk – and praise-worthy – punk need to puncture any and all kinds of self-importance. But don’t you believe it: This is one smart poison cookie!

The question I had going into this act was: “how well does this witch sing?” Because, like Bianca Del Rio, I don’t pay much attention to singles and albums released by drag queens. These are people who are meant to be seen live. And the answer? Sharon sings very well indeed, in a glam punk kind of way – the Alice Cooper reference above captures it, with an added dash of Marilyn Manson aggression.

The majority of the songs are from her campy horror albums. On those, the songs are done in a gothy version of the electropop style that is de rigeur for Drag Race graduates (I took a listen after I’d seen the act). Done live with only a piano, their hard rock roots are definitely showing, which makes me very happy. Makes me wonder what they would sound like played balls-to-the-wall Iggy & the Stooges style.

The above-mentioned cover versions are highlights of the evening. To hear the Velvet Undergound’s 1968 classic “Candy Says” sung with great sincerity and emotion by a man in a beautiful wig and dress is quite moving. And Sharon’s hilariously re-lyricized version of “Sweet Transvestite” gives new life to that midnight movie chestnut.

It’s a good thing this act is consistently high quality, cuz it’s a bit of a butt-buster with its nearly hour and a half length. That said, I didn’t really lose patience that whole time. Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see

Review: Stuffed


Fat, feminist, funny. In comedian Lisa Lampanelli’s first play Stuffed, it’s that last word that’s key. I’ve worked in feminist theatres, I’ve written for gay publications for a long time, so I can confirm that, just as the title of Susie Orbach’s 1978 landmark book says, Fat Is A Feminist Issue.

I’ve seen and worked on many shows that address how fat-shaming is used to oppress women, and how women negotiate their relationships with food and weight. Of all of them, Stuffed is far and away the funniest treatment of this important issue that I’ve ever seen, and that’s a very good thing.

Right from the beginning, director Jackson Gay’s staging lets us know that this is going to be a very presentational show, with the four women on stage sometimes talking to each other, and sometimes talking to the audience. At its most naturalistic, the play is a casual conversation between Lisa more or less playing herself in her home with guests bulimic Britney (Jessica Luck), confident overweight gal Stacey (Ann Harada), and chronically thin Katey (Zainab Jah).

It’s not surprising that a play by a stand-up comedian should be unafraid of using direct address, and the free flow between different modes of performance is one of the things that keeps the show moving at a brisk clip. Lampanelli occasionally even picks up a mic and goes into full stand-up mode.

The only major lull in the performance came when Lisa told the not always funny story of her relationship with a man considerably larger than herself. This story could have benefited from shifting from “stand up” to “monologue” perhaps even back into “realistic” dialogue. Having it all in mic’ed spotlight only served to point up how long it is.

But that’s a quibble. Some shows I’ve seen on this subject have been painful to sit through, but that is decidedly not the case with Stuffed. In addition to dealing humorously with the subject, Lampanelli writes with a light touch throughout. Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see

Review: Michael Feinstein & Marilyn Maye

Michael Feinstein and Marilyn Maye

Marilyn Maye’s a great hidden national treasure; Ella Fitzgerald herself once called Maye “the greatest white female singer in the world.” That was no exaggeration when Ella said it and it’s even truer today. There are younger singers who might posses more powerful voices, but I can think of no other living singer who possesses Maye’s combination of interpretive ability, rhythmic verve and undiminished vocal range.

She is currently sharing the stage of Feinstein’s / 54 Below with Michael Feinstein himself. Feinstein has had great success doing duet shows for many years and here, as usual, it’s a winning situation all around. This particular match is especially good: Maye is still at the top of her game at 88 – how many people, let alone performers, can say that – and Feinstein just keeps getting better, marrying soaring vocal power with ever more detailed nuance in his interpretations.

They both shine in their solo moments: Feinstein pays tribute to the upcoming production of Hello, Dolly in a bouncy rendition of the title song, including some newly fashioned lyrics from the composer / lyricist Jerry Herman. And Marilyn gives us her sultry rendition of Blossom Dearie’s “Bye Bye Country Boy” – I’ve heard her do it before, but still, every time her legendary interpretative ability gives me shivers. Of their fabulous encore, I won’t say anything, except that it exploits Michael’s ongoing love affair with boogie-woogie, which suits the ever-swinging Maye just fine.

Musical director Tedd Firth brings a glossy, sophisticated jazz musicianship to the proceedings, providing a luscious frame for the pair’s multifarious artistry. If you love classic songs sung like they’re meant to be sung – and swung – it doesn’t get any better than this.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see

Review: BenDeLaCreme

Bendelacreme Inferno2_JasonRusso

“What the Hell?” That’s the question posed by innovative drag performance artist BenDeLaCreme in her latest show, Inferno-A-Go-Go. BenDeLaCreme’s shows are truly unique, not just in drag performance, but in theatre as a whole. Sure, she includes the goofy song parodies and wisecracking comedy so common in drag. However, she’s after something far more sophisticated – her seductive strangeness creeps up on you.

The queen otherwise known as Ben Putnam is playing less of a ditz this time around, wryly joking about the fact that’s she’s chosen to do a drag cabaret based on Dante Alighieri’s 14th Century Italian epic poem Inferno. She’s more confident this time out, less coy about being more profound than the most chin-strokingly serious straight play, while rarely being less than belly-laugh hilarious.

BenDeLa forever rebukes the notion that arts of clowning, drag, circus, burlesque and ventriloquism are somehow less than other performance forms, somehow stupid. Putnam takes the best of all those forms and whips them into something new, fascinating and intensely intelligent. Not only that, BenDeLa uses these popular forms to probe the very biggest questions, switching from deep existential angst to spiritual lightness in the space of a minute – in between double entendres about sex and booze.

BenDeLaCreme is all about fantastic and ridiculous artifice, but also ultimately really about what that artifice can communicate and express about deeper things, like ethics and how to take care of ourselves and each other. She delivers a show that’s equal parts cheeky fun and insightful art, no small feat. Highly recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see

Review: Herb Alpert & Lani Hall

Herb Alpert & Lani Hall

Part of the joy of listening to really good jazz is the exciting spontaneity of improvisation. A rhythm that jumps out of nowhere, a melody that turns in an unexpected direction. In the cabaret show they are doing at the Cafe Carlyle, trumpeter Herb Alpert, his singer wife Lani Hall and the expert players behind them – the trio of Bill Cantos (piano), Hussain Jiffry (bass), Michael Shapiro (drums) – this thrilling spontaneity is on truly outlandish display.

I can’t overstate the impressive and exciting musicianship in this act. Alpert structures the songs in intricate ways that leave abundant room for improvisation. A rhythmic twist that starts in the drums finds its way to the bass and then into Alpert’s trumpet line – or the other way around! Herb and the band may play the same songs from night to night, but musically every performance is utterly different. Alpert is a breathtakingly soulful player, and Hall has that kind of liquid crystal voice that haunts songwriters’ dreams.

Alpert is most associated with his group the Tijuana Brass, and was also a recording industry executive – he is the “A” of A&M Records, which he founded with business partner Jerry Moss. Hall sang with A&M artist Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66, most famously on their hit version of “Mas Que Nada”. In the act at the Carlyle they perform selections from Alpert’s latest album Come Fly with Me, as well as the two albums they’ve recently recorded together, plus medleys of Tijuana Brass and Brasil ’66 hits.

Really, this is pure musical pleasure. During a particularly frisky version of Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”, pianist Bill Cantos soared off into a vocal scat that mirrored his vigorous and playful improvisations on the keyboard. Stunning, and highly recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see

Review: Turn Me Loose

Turn Me Loose

This deserves the widest audience possible! It’s both one of the most important and funniest shows I’ve seen in quite some time, and this is in a year that also included the especially pungent and humane The Humans. Named after the final words of civil rights leader Medgar Evers, Turn Me Loose is sharply focused on one of the sharpest wits and minds of the past hundred years, African-American comedian and activist Dick Gregory, played with equal parts panache and passion by Joe Morton.

One of the greatest talkers of his time, Gregory provides playwright Gretchen Law with abundant material, from both his stand up and his numerous speeches and interviews on behalf of the civil rights movement. She has successfully distilled it all down to only the funniest, pithiest and most visionary bits.

John Carlin plays a number of smaller roles ranging from hecklers to interviewers, starting out the show as a white comic opening for Gregory in the early 1960s, a very Borscht Belt “Take-my-wife-please” type. Law is very clever in having this brief “warm-up” act, to show what a marked contrast Gregory was to what came before him.

Turn Me Loose zig zags back and forth in time, mostly between the present (Gregory is still very much alive) and the height of his activist days, the 1960s. His work with the civil rights movement became so intense that one bit extracted from a 1968 stand up find him at a loss to find anything funny to say. Clearly he recovered, since the more contemporary material finds him in fine fettle, furious but still ferociously funny.

Gregory went on to become a bit of a conspiracy theorist, and Turn Me Loose largely skirts that side of him. The exception comes in those theories which time has proven to be true, such as the conspiracy to concentrate wealth in fewer and fewer hands, and the conspiracy of companies like Monsanto to always pursue profit over their customers’ health. This is truly essential viewing, and as such gets my highest recommendation.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see